Veterans Day Reflections on the Cold War, ‘Freiheit’ and the Berlin Wall

By Tim Fitzpatrick ’71

Tim Fitzpatrick afront East Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate as a Fenwick junior in 1970. (The gate is an 18th-century neoclassical monument, built on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II after the successful restoration of order during the early Batavian Revolution.)

I first visited Berlin in 1970 on a Fenwick High School language trip with Father Nicholas Aschenbrener, O.P.  After living through the 1960s’ Berlin Wall crisis with John. F. Kennedy’s “Ich Bin Ein Berliner Speech” and experiencing the wall in person, I joined the United States Army.  I returned as an infantry officer in 1980 and my twin boys, Tim and Danny, were born in Berlin.  I had previously led Cold War staff rides in Berlin for students in the Department of Defense Executive Leadership Development Program NATO deployments. In September 2018, son Danny, one-year-old grandson Asher and Shawna’s parents were able to watch Danny’s wife Shawna complete the Berlin Marathon, which I had done while stationed in Berlin. 

Fitz (left) at Glienicke Brucke (Bridge of Spies) in 1980.

The Berlin House of Representatives sponsors the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation, founded in 1994.  The foundation runs the Welcome Home program to sponsor U.S. Military veterans to return to Berlin, to share their story with Berlin schools, government and other organizations, and for them to experience Berlin as it has emerged from the Cold War into a very lively city.

I was privileged to be the group leader for nine U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Berlin veterans, representing a good cross-section of America, whose service in Berlin spanned from 1959 to 1993, greater than the life of the Berlin Wall itself.  For each of us, the shared common bond and deep emotions about our service in Berlin, and connection to Berliners, caused us to form almost instantly into a tight-knit group.

We stayed in the Hotel Air, Berlin center near the “KeDeWe” department store. We had a warm and gracious “Welcome Home” dinner at the Europa Center’s Kartoffelkisten. On Saturday 11 May we started our tour at the Glienicker Brucke (Bridge of Spies) and a tour of the Russian Colony, Potsdam (including Sanssouci Palace), culminating with a tour of Cecilianhof Palace where the Potsdam conference at the end of WWII was held.

Fitz (left) with 98-year-old retired U.S. Army Air Corps/Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen. “Hal” is best known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” or “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and gained fame for dropping candy to German children during the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949.

What made this year’s tour so exciting was the 70th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift and the following reception in our old Outpost Theater, now Allied Museum, which allowed us to shake the hand of the famous Berlin Airlift “Candy Bomber” Colonel (USAF, Ret.) Gail Halvorsen (98 years old!). The host was the German Minister of Defense, who gave a very moving speech about the Allies saving Berlin and about the importance of Freedom – Freiheit! She awarded the German Gold Cross of Honor to recently retired U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson for his service as commander of NATO Forces in Afghanistan. After receiving his medal he joined the BUSMVA vets for some soldier stories. The evening concluded with an honor guard and serenade by the Luftwaffe band and troops.

“Candy Bomber” Col. Halvorsen (later commander of Tempelhof Air Force Base), speaks at the wreath laying for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift.

On Sunday 12 May, we participated in the wreath-laying commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the End of the Berlin Airlift at the Luftbrucke Memorial at Tempelhof. Col. Halvorsen was the featured speaker along with senior representatives of Germany, Berlin and all participating Allied nations. A reception followed, with a greeting of Airlift veterans, other dignitaries, and ourselves by the Berlin Governing Mayor in the main Tempelhof terminal hall. An interpretive music and dance performance held at the Columbia Theater (former US Air Force base theater) featured children from Berlin’s Gail Halvorsen School and the Stiftung Luftbrückendank (Airlift Gratitude Foundation founded in 1959 by Willy Brandt). Daniel de la Fuentes performed an original work “Flying for Freedom.” You could see these things done in their honor having a profound effect on Airlift veterans of each nation. Most stayed to enjoy the mass celebration under the Templehof aircraft awning. The USAFE Band played, dressed in WWII-era, Glenn Miller band uniforms to huge crowds, with an Airlift museum set up in a the hanger. Tempelhof is no longer an active airfield but a massive park where thousands of people play and stroll.

The Minister of Defense awarded the German Gold Cross of Honor to recently retired U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson (the decorated one!) for his service as commander of NATO Forces in Afghanistan.

Monday 13 May we toured our former headquarters, Clay Compound, and McNair Barracks. Almost all is recognizable, but where we once did PT, or stood formation or lined up our reaction platoon armored vehicles, children now play — and the buildings are apartments. Throughout there are little memorials to our presence and the streets have retained their U.S. names. Andrews Barracks now houses the German National Archives and has some new buildings. While an archives employee was telling us about the buildings, it was fun to watch their little fork lift go by still marked “U.S. Army!”

“Ich bin ein Berliner” is a speech by United States President John F. Kennedy given on June 26, 1963, in West Berlin. It is widely regarded as the best-known speech of the Cold War and the most famous anti-communist speech.

We ate lunch at the Schoneberg Rathause, made famous by President Kennedy’s “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner) speech. It houses a research library dedicated to memorializing those apprehended and killed by the Nazis. Students do the research and a Stolperstein (stumble stone) is embedded near the entrance of where the victim were last free. This stumble stone is a paver with a brass top engraved with their name, date of arrest and where they were murdered. Every time you touch one, you remember that person, what happened to them, and why the United States was in Berlin.

Stolperstein is a “stumbling stone,” (3.9 in × 3.9 in) concrete cube bearing a brass plate inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution.
Continue reading “Veterans Day Reflections on the Cold War, ‘Freiheit’ and the Berlin Wall”

Who Is God? Perhaps More Importantly, Who Isn’t He?

“Though they use the same word ‘God,’ they really have no idea what Aquinas means when he uses the word ‘God.’”

By Brother Joseph Trout, O.P.

Who is God? Much of theology at Fenwick revolves around this question. Who is the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God-man Jesus? What does it mean to interact with this God? They are big questions, and the answers have significant impact on our lives of faith. It makes a big difference if we think that:

  • A) God tested Abraham with the sacrifice of Isaac just to see if he will do literally anything God asks no matter the cost, or
  • B) God tested Abraham to develop Abraham’s confidence in the true goodness of God who will honor his promises (descendants through Isaac) even when it seems completely contradictory to present experience.

Is God demanding beyond our comprehension, or good when it seems impossible? Is faith about blind obedience or profound trust in goodness? Personally, I find hope in the latter and not the former. Most times I read the news I need to be reminded that God truly is good though it just doesn’t seem to be the case in the world.

Christians need to wrestle with these kind of questions both for our relationship with God and our proclamation of Christ. Who is this God we stake our lives on? Who is this God that promises to save us?

However, there is perhaps a more fundamental question for today’s world: Who ISN’T God? What is God not? These are essential questions for a scientific age that dismisses God as superstitious explanation for inexplicable realities by our inferior ancestors. Is God really just our answer for what we don’t understood? Aquinas’ proofs are actually the opposite: God is the explanation behind what we do understand. God is the grounding of science beyond science itself. He is the logos — the very meaning of all existence and truth.

This topic pervades the videos of Bishop Barron. Many conflicts over science and religion come from people using totally different definitions of God. He astutely points out that the God rejected by Christopher Hitchins and Richard Dawkins is also rejected by Aquinas and the wealth of Catholic history. We simply don’t mean the same thing when we talk about God.

Click here to view one video where Barron jumps straight into the issue.

As the season of Lent is kicking off, one spiritual purification to consider is not a moral one, but a theological one. Watch some videos by Barron or other Catholic theologians to get rid of the “Golden Calves” we build up. They aren’t just money and power but misunderstandings of the Way, the Truth and the Life. Ponder again what God we don’t believe in, and look again to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ to see exactly what God we cling to in faith.

This is the third post in our series of reflections on the work of Bishop Robert Barron, upcoming recipient of the Lumen Tranquillum (“Quiet Light”) Award. You can find the first and second posts here:

Continue reading “Who Is God? Perhaps More Importantly, Who Isn’t He?”

Grooming Some of Fenwick’s Students to be Philanthropists in the Future

A philanthropic program for teenagers can contribute to our “mutual future social infrastructure,” writes Dr. Lordan.

By Gerald Lordan, PhD.

Fenwick seniors Ethan Seavey (left) and Isaiah Curry with mentor Justin Lewis (standing).

The Future Philanthropist Program (FPP) is an adolescent leadership-training program sponsored by the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, which invests $25,000 annually into community social-service agencies that provide programs for adolescents. Fenwick has five students presently participating in the program: Isaiah Curry ’19, Camille Luckett ’19, Aimee Morrissey ’20, Roger Rhomberg ’20 and Ethan Seavey ’19.

As the only high school in the United States sponsored by Dominican Friars, Fenwick is sui generis (unique). We want our Ministry to be a valued local anchor, a visible metropolitan resource and a recognized national lighthouse for our Thomist Educational Philosophy.  Every high school in the United State has a contractual obligation to the state legislature which chartered it to train patriotic citizens and literate workers. In addition to those legal obligations, Fenwick, as a Thomist School, has a covenant obligation with the Supreme Being to train moral servant leaders. To that end our curriculum includes Speech, Moral Theology, the Christian Service Project and the Kairos retreat.

Those lessons our students learn in the classroom, such as in Speech class, are important. Even more important are those lessons which our students learn inside the building but outside of the classroom, such as liturgy assemblies in the Auditorium. The most important lessons our students learn, such as Kairos, are taught to them outside of the building. Adolescent leadership training is an important component to the Fenwick Thomist experience.

FPP’s leadership affirms the symbiotic relationship between our school and the community. “The Future Philanthropists Program is proud to have partnered with Fenwick High School for the last nine years to teach juniors and seniors the art, science and business of philanthropy,” says program coordinator Karen Tardy. “Our Fenwick students are always eager and very engaged in the program, and they work hard to made a difference in our communities through grant-making, fund-raising and volunteering.  We appreciate the commitment Fenwick has made to the Future Philanthropists Program and their help in creating the leaders of tomorrow.”

FPP participants make a two-year commitment to attend monthly dinner meetings with a small affinity peer group and an adult mentor. Student members of the affinity groups come from Fenwick, Trinity and Oak Park-River Forest high schools. Community leaders share their observations about the past, present and future of our community with the students who, in turn, identify the most critical needs of adolescents in the community. They then solicit grant proposals from community service agencies to address these needs. The students award $25,000 in grant funds provided by the OPRFCF to implement the most promising proposals. Students then conduct field investigations to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of the proposal implementation.

We hope this early life experience will encourage future philanthropists to stay within the community during their adult years to donate their talent, time and treasure to the advance the quality of life in the community where our Ministry has flourished.

Fenwick and the Village of Oak Park

Oak Park would not be Oak Park, and Fenwick would not be Fenwick, without one another. Fenwick, celebrating its 90th year in 2019, has flourished in the Oak Park/River Forest Community for these past nine decades. The school’s architects carved an Oak Park shield carved in stone above our front door on Washington Blvd. It is our intention to be a valued local anchor, a visible metropolitan resource and, as I mentioned before, a recognized national lighthouse for the Thomist educational philosophy.

The presence of vibrant parochial educational institutions, such as Trinity and Fenwick, was an important part in the community’s continuity and evolution. John Gearen ’32, an alumnus from the Class of 1932 (and the school library’s namesake) was a racial inclusive, and the late John Philbin, who sent his children to Fenwick, was a sexual-orientation inclusive. Both men were Fenwick Community leaders who served as Village President. Former Village Clerk Ginny Cassin also was a Fenwick parent. Oak Park is the garden in which we have blossomed.

Fenwick turns 100 in 10 more years. It is our intention to thrive and not just to survive in the next 100 years. It is interesting to note that the Fenwick Hispanic ethnicity enrollment is 17% of the student body. Our institution could be a magnet to attract the next great demographic evolution of Oak Park.

Continue reading “Grooming Some of Fenwick’s Students to be Philanthropists in the Future”

Faculty Focus: Meet English Teacher Rick O’Connor

English Teacher Rick O’Connor brings his broadcasting expertise to Fenwick’s students.

What is your educational background?

RO: I have a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island and a M.A.T. from National-Louis University.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

RO: I was the Executive Producer for “The Steve Cochran Show” on WGN Radio for eight years. Prior to that, I held positions at Fidelity Investments and Putnam Investments in Boston.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

RO: When [Basketball] Coach [Staunton] Peck and I are not discussing the Red Sox and White Sox and other world affairs, we recommend books to each other. The current recommendation is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. I just started it, and so far, so good!

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom? Continue reading “Faculty Focus: Meet English Teacher Rick O’Connor”